What Shelley Duvall's Life Has Been Like Since Her Harrowing Experience Working On The Shining

Actress Shelley Duvall is most recognized for her role as Wendy Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie "The Shining." Prior to that, she appeared in a few movies directed by Robert Altman in the 1970s. Duvall didn't seek out a career in acting. In fact, she was studying nutrition in college when location scouts who worked for Altman accidentally discovered her at a party in Texas. She didn't have professional acting experience, but Altman took interest in Duvall's unique appearance. Her slim build and large doe eyes were good enough for the director to offer her a role in the 1970 movie "Brewster McCloud," where she played the role of Suzanne.

In 1977, horror novelist Stephen King released the novel "The Shining," and Kubrick loved it so much that he decided to adapt it into a movie. Speaking to the BBC, King said he envisioned the character of Wendy Torrance as a tough blonde, and he and actor Jack Nicholson — who played lead character Jack Torrance — were in agreement that Jessica Lange was the best actress for the role. However, Kubrick had someone else in mind. The director insisted that he wanted Duvall to play the character of Wendy.

Shelley Duvall's set experience

Stanley Kubrick personally called Shelley Duvall to offer her the role of Wendy Torrance. Although the two have never met, Duvall told The Hollywood Reporter that Stanley Kubrick told her she was "great at crying" and sent her a copy of Stephen King's book. It took 56 weeks to complete "The Shining," and the shoot took a toll on Duvall. Her scenes required her to show emotions like fear, panic, and delirium, and shooting six days a week for up to 16 hours each day was grueling. Duvall got into character by thinking about sad thoughts and listening to sad music. In her interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she revealed that there were days when she thought she couldn't cry anymore, but she was able to do it. "I don't know how I did it," she said. "Jack [Nicholson] said that to me, too. He said, 'I don't know how you do it.'"

In the same interview, Duvall recalled the staircase scene in the movie wherein Wendy Torrance was in an intense confrontation with her husband Jack while she was wielding a baseball bat and crying. Duvall said that Nicholson was particularly scary at that moment. That scene alone, which she said that difficult to shoot, took three weeks to complete and was shot 127 times. Furthermore, the most iconic part of the movie — the "Here's Johnny!" scene — was mostly improvised, and her screams were the result of real terror. In the "Making Of" documentary (via "The Essential Jack Nicholson"), Duvall revealed the role was so stressful that her health suffered.

The Dr. Phil interview

After "The Shining" was released, Shelley Duvall appeared in TV movies, guested on TV shows, and even did some voice acting. She worked behind the camera and produced children's TV shows as well. Her last appearance in a movie was in 2002's "Manna from Heaven," after which she retired from acting and went back to live in Texas away from the limelight. For years, Duvall lived a quiet life — until 2016, when producers of the talk show "Dr. Phil" approached her.

She agreed to an interview, and the episode was aired in November 2016. It was the first time Duvall was seen in the public eye for years. Before the show even aired, Dr. Phil McGraw faced backlash for the promo of the episode wherein Duvall was shown in a clip saying that she was sick and needed help. There was also a part where she was asked about her former co-star Robin Williams, to which she said she didn't think he was dead but was just shapeshifting. Many people took to Twitter to say that Dr. Phil exploited Duvall during a vulnerable time in her life. The actress told The Hollywood Reporter, "I found out the kind of person he is the hard way."

Shelley Duvall's return to acting

In 2022, Deadline reported that Shelley Duvall had returned to acting after 20 years. Her first movie after the long hiatus is "The Forest Hills," an independent thriller film written and directed by Scott Goldberg. Goldberg told the outlet that "The Shining" is one of his favorite movies, and he praised Duvall for her magnificent performance as Wendy Torrance and how she was able to elicit true horror on the screen.

In "The Forest Hills," Duvall plays the mother of the lead character, Rico (Chico Mendes). "The character of Rico's mother is angry because of what her son has become and feels a quiet rage which sometimes turners explosive," Duvall told People in an interview about her role. Two of the movie's producers also featured Duvall in a video on their YouTube channel, Grimm Life Collective, wherein they spent a day with the actress and asked her about her past acting experiences and the people she worked with. When she was asked about what it was like to be back to acting after so many years, the actress said it felt natural and that she had a wonderful time with the cast and crew. Duvall currently lives in a ranch in Texas with musician Dan Gilroy, her partner since 1989.